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Details of grass skirt death

Published: 6:20PM Wednesday April 04, 2001

Details are emerging of the horror prank that ended a young share broker's life.

Matthew Schofield, 27, has admitted killing one of his colleagues at the Merrill Lynch Christmas party last year.

Schofield set fire to Gareth McFadyen's grass skirt killing him and seriously hurting another colleague.

At a High Court hearing on Wednesday, Crown prosecutor Simon Moore described the horror as McFadyen ran burning from the toilets of Auckland hotel Quay West.

"As he ran he was black from charring. The back of his head was described as glowing like a cigarette and smoke poured from him."

Schofield sat almost motionless as the Court heard how his actions transformed a Christmas party into tragedy.

Moore said Schofield bent down outside the cubicle door and produced a pink cigarette lighter.

"He said words to the effect 'I can't resist this'."

The judge heard it was not the first time Schofield had tried to set fire to things that night.

The prosecution says he had tried lighting a hat and at least two other grass skirts, including McFadyen's.

"The Crown contends the deceased's grass skirt caught fire (earlier in the night) and was extinguished only after being patted down, and possibly by the pouring of a drink over it.

"A staff member of Quay West witnessed this event and told the accused not to be a bloody idiot," said Moore.

But Schofield's lawyer argued it was just fun.

"These events were perceived by a number of those present as being done in jest, with humour, and not regarded as in any way dangerous," said Stuart Grieve QC.

The judge heard that after midnight, when the bar had closed and the women's toilets were full, McFadyen invited Angela Offwood, a colleague, to use the men's toilets.

He followed her inside into a cubicle where they joked about work.

It was there that Schofield used his lighter to set McFadyen's grass skirt on fire.

McFadyen's injuries, consisting of burns to over 95% of his body, were described as "unsurvivable", said Moore. He died three days later.

Angela Offwood, who tried to help her friend, suffered serious burns that have left her permanently scarred.

Schofield told police at the hospital: "I lit the skirt as a practical joke."

His pre-sentence hearing finishes on Friday.